Tuesday, February 28, 2006

To Marcy

I feel I owe you an entire post.

Many of my classmates and I from the one national medical school in the Philippines started training in the United States at the peak of the AIDS epidemic. US medical graduates at that time did not want to have anything to do with hundreds of patients with full-blown AIDS. This was our chance to work and learn from outstanding institutions where we trained with physicians who were paid to read, research and teach residents full time.

Those were great days and those were days before they began limiting work hours of residents. 120 hours a week was not uncommon and imagine King's County Hospital with 1000 medical beds (including a 40 bed prison ward). One memory from this period was the experience of not seeing daylight for weeks on end as we would report for work early in the morning and return home late at night. I don't know how we thrived in these circumstances but having my wife with me as a co-resident surely helped a lot.

Maybe this is also why I am confident Chris will appreciate our working environment today.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

State of Emergency

Because a Brigadier General was planning to march alongside people who were going to attend the twentieth anniversary of the fall of Marcos, Gloria Arroyo declared a "State of Emergency". This was splashed in the headlines of the New York Times, Washington Post and most other important newspapers. Just as when things were beginning to look brighter, the government screws everything up and managed to show the world that they did not really know what they were doing.

By over-reacting, they only showed to all that they are so insecure about their legitimacy. They must have really cheated in the last elections. This conclusion does not come as a surprise but I guess everyone who has had the best hopes for the Philippines had this attitude all along. So they cheated like everyone else, give them a chance so long as they do good to the country.

Now that they have set the Philippines back, I am convinced that they will do everything in their power to stay in power whatever the consequences. This tells me that they are willing to see the nation destroyed just as long as they retain control.

They have been in power for five years now. The economy grows only because of the ten million Filipinos abroad sending remittances to keep the sputtering economy going. The very negative effects of this type of income will be expounded upon in another segment.

Perhaps it is time for Gloria to go.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

People Power

Twenty years ago, the Filipino people invented People Power. Suddenly, oppressed people got together and peacefully emerged from 14 years of dark dictatorship. Because I distinctly remember those days when we were not free is the reason I rejoice when I look back at all the gains we achieved as a nation.

There was no press to speak of. Marcos was not accountable to anybody. We still have no idea how many people disappeared. Travel was restricted. Guns were confiscated. I can only wonder how this one man was able to keep all of us enslaved.

The reason I became a physician was that at that time it had been the most benign option. I would be able to help others and make enough money without having to compromise with the dictatorship. People Power ended all this and enabled my three younger siblings to become lawyers like our father and grandfather before us.

Whatever others say, the Philippines is still better off free. We must not take for granted the liberties we recovered. But we are still poor and the middle class continues its exodus to other countries "for the sake of the family". This is why I need to go home because we need to reclaim our country.

Why does a better life require a sacrifice of being separated from our parents and brothers and sisters? Why cannot we come together again and achieve a modicum of security, prosperity and cleanliness that will permit us to live and contribute to our communities?

I am amazed that I am able to look back twenty years, a generation. Almost all of this time that transformed me into a middle-aged person was spent in the United States. Wasn't Thomas Jefferson 32 when he wrote the Declaration? Martin Luther King was 21 when he began leading those marches. I really must get going.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Guymon, Oklahoma

Just found out that other people are actually reading this blog! These are people who know the quality of life we are at present enjoying here in the Oklahoma panhandle. I rise at 6:30 in the morning, drive 3 minutes to my clinic and perform the morning endoscopies with my trusted and reliable and talented nurse. In between, I see my inpatients and then at 9 am sharp, fortified by Starbucks Yukon Blend and Evian, I start seeing patients, about 30 in all. My wife and I work like Swiss timepieces, methodical and efficient, we have been doing this almost non-stop for the last eight years. We take our customary lunch break from 12 noon through 1:30 pm. This has been an inviolate tradition as well, and we either eat out in one of the many eateries here (Mexican, Chinese, Lebanese, traditional American, pizza, Sonic, Kentucky, and so on) or partake of a simple home-cooked meal and then be back at the clinic for the 3 and a half hour afternoon detail.

We rarely get called back in at night. I have performed two emergency endoscopies in my ten years here. While a Fellow in Brooklyn, I would get called an average of three times per evening call.

I am able to attend all the basketball, soccer and recitals that I need to attend. There has been time for community activities and lately, I have been able to exercise on a regular basis.

Evenings are spent eating a light supper and then the serious reading commences. In between CSPAN and XM radio.

The living is comfortable and the nights are peaceful. Plenty of time to horse around with my two younger daughters. There is an abundance of reliable friends.

Guymon is the greatest place on earth. Shangri-la. I would want my heart to be buried in the local Elmhurst cemetery here.

Monday, February 13, 2006


A long time ago, there was a revolutionary invention in the Philippines called the Ener-Grill. It was technology that promised unlimited heat energy from old newspapers.

Even back then, we had a surfeit of printed opinion and Pinoy-style journalism that passed for news. The problem was even with a few months worth of newspapers, all we could cook were a few thin slices of pork chops that tasted good not only because of the limited quantity of morsels but because by the time the meat was cooked, everybody was hungry.

I have received a lot of opinions, suggestions, comments and advice since I began this blog. I don't know what to do with all of them. Should I just crumple them all and toss them into this quintessential Filipino contraption and hope that I at least will be able to savor a sliver of barely-palatable pork chops or should I simply treat all these sundry words of wisdom as well-meaning comments from friends who are concerned and venture on?

Wednesday, February 8, 2006


Today I found out that one leading recording artist and entertainer in the Philippines is emigrating to Australia. He says he is doing this for his children. An absolute majority of Filipinos these days will not think twice of moving to the US, Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Middle East in search of a better life. What my wife and I are planning to do is certainly a move upstream.

What is funny is that "the better life" may actually be in the Philippines. Where your family is, where your classmates live, where your childhood friends or whatever is left of them continue to stay. America is such a wealthy nation but there is so much that one can live without and remain perfectly contented and happy. Reduce your needs and produce your wants, if I may be allowed to paraphrase Gandhi. Our people should not strive for a trillion-dollar economy nor should we aspire for much material luxury. Some needs however have to be provided and guaranteed: safe water, clean air, rice and vegetables and fish, affordable beer, sufficient electricity, basic health care, peace and security, solid elementary education, internet access, fair elections...

These are common goals that are essential for the common good. We all need to start planting trees, conserving energy (like turning unnecessary lights off, curtailing the use of airconditioners and taking cold showers, riding mass transit and maintaining vehicles with tiny engines), paying taxes and asking for receipts, limiting the size of our families to what we can afford to comfortably sustain, cleaning our surroundings and participating in community projects that will promote those aforementioned needs.

I do not blame the emigrants. They have seen their hopes repeatedly thwarted. Back home, people think that we have it all so good and they don't seem to realize that we have to work much harder abroad and suffer loneliness which is the worst part of it all. We are essentially forced to flee because our efforts are commensurately rewarded in other lands not our own. What we currently have is a system that is not working and requires a serious overhaul. Obviously the combined expertise and experience of our current and previous dispensations have not been successful in alleviating poverty and disease and death.

We need to start on a new and different path.